(Sports Network) - A rare series loss at home put the Braves further back in the National League East race and now the club must find its game on the road to get back into things.
Atlanta begins a nine-game road trip this evening in New York, where it will battle the Mets for three straight games at Citi Field.
The Braves are just 31-41 on the road compared to an outstanding 52-23 mark as the host this year, but dropped two of three to the Nationals at Turner Field for their first home series loss since April 20-22 versus the Phillies. In dropping the final two contests of the set with Washington, Atlanta fell three games back of Philadelphia for the division's top spot.
Mike Minor suffered the first loss of his career after allowing four runs over five innings. All the runs he gave up came on one swing of the bat as Washington's Justin Maxwell touched him for a grand slam in the second inning.
"That's what cost us the game right there was the one pitch," said Minor. "I had the pitcher coming up next. The guy is going to do whatever he can. He was only hitting .130-something so he's going to take a big hack. I threw him a good pitch and he took a good swing on it. I should have been smarter with the pitcher coming up."
Atlanta, which is now facing its largest deficit in the NL East since a 3 1/2- game margin on May 25, will look to stay in the playoff race tonight behind Tommy Hanson, who has won just one of his last seven decisions despite pitching well.
The right-handed Hanson is 9-11 with a 3.54 earned run average in 30 starts and is coming off a no-decision on Saturday versus the Cardinals. Hanson allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings without a walk and five strikeouts.
The 24-year-old has dominated the Mets to the tune of a 0.73 ERA in four starts, going 2-1. He picked up a victory over them on Sept. 1, allowing just David Wright's fourth-inning double and one walk over seven scoreless innings.
Hanson will try to prevent the Mets from playing spoiler tonight, though New York comes in off a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh to get to 5-2 on a 10-game homestand.
Mike Pelfrey finished off the sweep, New York's first four-gamer since Aug. 15-18, 2003, with seven innings of two-run ball to extend his career-high win total to 15 games.
"When you start to struggle you have to find a way to get back on track," said Pelfrey, who had lost his last two starts. "It took me seven starts to get back on track. That's longer than I would have liked, but I'm back where I want to be."
Pelfrey also drove in a run in the victory and Lucas Duda had a pair of doubles, two RBI and a run scored.
Like Pelfrey, Jon Niese also tries to get back on track tonight after losing for the third time in four starts on Sunday. The 23-year-old southpaw, who is pitching to a 6.94 ERA in that span, gave up three runs on eight hits over seven innings of a loss to the Phillies, falling to 9-8 with a 3.85 ERA in 27 home starts.
Niese lost to the Braves on Aug. 31, lasting just 4 2/3 innings and getting charged with eight runs, though just three were earned. Lifetime versus Atlanta, he is 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA in four starts.
Atlanta has won four of its last five over New York, but all of those wins came at home. Though the Braves lead the season series, 8-7, they have lost four of six at Citi Field in 2010.